The Buzz

Rouhani’s Struggle Is Just Beginning

On October 13 Iran’s parliament finally passed a resolution approving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal the P5+1 struck with Iran over its nuclear program in July.

Parliamentary support was weaker than President Hassan Rouhani probably would have liked – 161 ‘yea’ votes from a body that seats 290– but it is at least a partial success. Or was it?

The parliamentary commission appointed to review the JCPOA was an almost endless source of criticism of Rouhani and his administration, particularly Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Several conservative leaders condemned the deal and Rouhani’s alleged violation of the Supreme Leader’s redlines in the negotiations. But as I argued last month, this political show did not indicate the deal was at risk. Rather, the commission’s venom was aimed at taking Rouhani down a few notches, with the Supreme Leader’s blessing.

The key piece in this puzzle is a meeting held Sunday between parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani, and the head of the Office of the Supreme Leader’s Intelligence and Security directorate, Asghar Mir Hejazi. This meeting reportedly secured the passage of the JCPOA resolution, bringing months of public debate and criticism to a final—albeit messy—end. This meeting came despite public criticism of the parliamentary commission’s review process, its report, and even the head of the commission himself. (For background on the commission, see here.) Khamenei’s willingness to lend the power of his office to resolve the dispute between Rouhani and the Parliament speaks volumes for his position on the deal.

Khamenei never intended to sink the deal. His decision to allow the past few months of political theater had other motives. Rouhani’s efforts to use the nuclear agreement to assert himself ahead of February’s parliamentary elections likely made many conservatives nervous about losing their majority to Rouhani-aligned moderates and reformists. Khamenei has a long history of neutering the presidents serving under him by at least their second terms, lest they become too powerful.

As I stated previously, more hits on Rouhani are probably coming. The nuclear deal may be one of Iran’s most popular diplomatic achievements in recent years, but Khamenei will not let that upset his plans for the future of the state.

Rouhani may have got the nuclear deal, but the struggle over the rest of his agenda has only just begun.

J. Matthew McInnis is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This report was produced in cooperation with the Iran Team of the Critical Threats Project. This piece first appeared on the AEI website here

Image: Office of the President, Iran.